By Rawson Jahan and Eric Schmid
Suffolk County will cut 10 bus routes that service nearly 450 daily riders to save $1 million starting on October 10th.
The S71, 7D/E, S35, S90, 5A, 1B, 10A and 10D/E lines were set to be cut on October 3rd but are now delayed to October 10th, according to Suffolk legislator Bridget Fleming’s office. The cuts will save Suffolk County $4 million a year every year following but, many riders will be stranded trying to do everyday tasks, Jon Siebert, a program coordinator for Vision Long Island who uses the bus system almost daily, said.
“I could pay $2.25 each way to go to the bank and cash my check,” Siebert said. “Now, it’s going to cost me $15 in a cab, an extra $520 a year.”
According to the county, these cuts were crucial in helping cover a $78 million deficit. “Our subsidy for the bus system has gone up more than 500% in the last decade,” Vanessa Bairdstreeter, assistant deputy accountant for the Suffolk County executive said.
“Based on our analysis of particular bus routes, it costs $30.62 to cover the average customer, $82.85 per route, per customer, but the bus fare is $2.25,” She said.
Some people, like Aaron Watkins-Lopez, organizer of the Long Island Bus Riders Union, feel the cuts were made hastily.
“They base these cuts off of ridership numbers,” Watkins-Lopez, said, adding that places with lower ridership, like East Hampton, which is losing the 10A line, get hit disproportionately harder because fewer people live there.
“Suffolk county is not getting the adequate amount of state funding that every other county gets,” Watkins-Lopez said. He explained this is one reason why the county is cutting routes.
“We received less money than Nassau and next year our projected subsidy is $30 million,” Bairdstreeter said. Even with the cuts, she added, Suffolk County will still pay more than Nassau County.
The S71 route, which travels from Shirley to Stony Brook University, will suffer the worst cuts. The route services about 159 people daily, some of which are students.
The commute for Jay Rivers, a senior electrical engineering student at Stony Brook University will more than double. “I don’t know about you but no one is going to wake up at 4-4:30 in the morning to commute 3 hours to Stony Brook,” Rivers said.
“These eliminated routes place the majority of the cuts on the residents of the Mastics/Shirley area, as well as the only route that services the residents of Sound Beach,” Edward P. Romaine, the Brookhaven Town Supervisor said.
For many, public transportation is their only means of transportation and making a living. “People are not riding the bus for fun, they’re riding for work,” Watkins-Lopez said. “A lot of people lose their jobs when they lose bus service.”
Siebert added that bus drivers are also deeply affected by these cuts. “One driver, for example, is coming close to retirement, but he’s going to lose $350 a month by taking an alternative route,” he said. “Now he’s barely gonna make even, barely gonna break by.”
The service cuts begin next Monday leaving many scrambling, but Suffolk County legislators believe there will be opportunities to work with local government and prevent wholesale route cuts in the future.